Chuseok Diary

I’m sitting in the living room after finishing another massive feed. My mother and father in-law are visiting, as is my brother-in-law. It’s kind of a proud moment for me. Today, I’m the man-of-the-house that is hosting the family’s Chuseok get-together. Herself doesn’t really have a big family – only her parents and one younger brother – and the majority of her parent’s brothers and sisters have lived far away for a long time so the family tend to do their own thing at Chuseok. It’s small, but cosy enough in its own way. It’s also quiet, which is also nice especially when I compare it to the frantic Christmases we have back in Ireland.

As I said, I am the man-of-the-house. That being said, herself and her ould won are doing most, if not all, of the work. It’s not because I can’t, it’s more because Herself’s ould won won’t have me doing anything short of setting the table, not that I’m complaining or anything.

Unfortunately, Herself’s parents can only stay a couple of nights before they shoot back to Gangwon-do on the east coast. But, we both could see that they were happy to be here for Chuseok. The change and the journey are always nice I think, and I think that they had less to worry about coming here. Our apartment has more room and is a bit more comfortable than theirs, especially when the whole family comes over for Chuseok. So, while they did have a three hour drive to get here we both could feel that they were very relaxed and happy with the change of scene.

I’ve always enjoyed Chuseok. I kind of think of it as a Korean version of Christmas. Don’t ask me to make any comparisons other than it being a family holiday. But, as opposed to New Year I enjoy it more as it is still warm. More importantly that background and reasons for it fit in with a general philosophy on life that appeals to me.

A Chuseok laden fridge is one aspect of the philosophy of life I espouse to.

For those that don’t know, Chuseok has been described as Korean Thanksgiving. Of course when Herself explains this to my ould won she has no idea what Thanksgiving is and struggles to make any appropriate association between the North American version of Thanksgiving and the Korean holiday. While I have a rough idea what the North American version is all about, allow me to tell you about the Korean version.

It is a three day period in early Autumn which would have signified the end of the harvest. It’s a lunar holiday so the date fluctuates from early September, such as this year, to mid-October. What’s also important about Chuseok is that it is a day to say thank you to your ancestors for all they have done before you. Many people visit their relatives graves and have a small picnic there after a brief ceremony, while others have the ceremony in their home. Traditionally the family members would travel to the parents’ home which is why Chuseok traffic is infamous. Or if the parents aren’t alive they might visit the oldest son of the parents.

There’s more I could say here but I’ll keep it short and sweet as I’m sure it has been described more adeptly by others over the years – If it interests you, I have a lot in common with this well written post.

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Some of the food eaten at Chuseok

Previous to this year, we travelled out to Gangwon-do at Chuseok to be with Herself’s parents. However, this year we were most untraditional and had her parents come to stay with us. When we go to Gangwon-do we usually visit Herself’s grandmother’s grave. This year we had a small thank you ceremony in the house. And then we had a massive breakfast. Food is a big factor in Chuseok which should be fairly obvious to anyone who has been in Korea around this time of year.

We were worried about the traffic but when I checked the internet yesterday it didn’t look as intense as expected. Of course, everyone worries about the traffic during Chuseok but I think a number of things are changing the amount of traffic. This year Chuseok fell on a Monday so many people had the opportunity to travel over the weekend which allowed the droves to thin out a little. Of course if Chuseok fell mid-week or on a Saturday it is quite likely the traditional traffic chaos would be in full swing, and I wouldn’t writing about this now.

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Trffic yesterday around 2pm - Red means really shite!

That being said, one thing which is affecting the traffic is where the centre or head of the family lives. As I mentioned, people usually either visit their parents or the eldest son’s home. In many cases, the oldest son is in charge of hosting Chuseok. In a lot of cases, many of the oldest sons now live in Seoul or in other big cities – at least there are a lot more  people that there used to live spread out around the country. I noticed the change in this when I came back to Korea two years ago.

Before I left I taught mostly kids, but when I returned I taught older people – university students and older men mostly – and the many of them told me that they were either hosting Chuseok dinner or that they only had to travel into Seoul or a nearby suburb, as opposed to the countryside. If there’s any further support of this argument of sorts I suppose it’s the crowds of people who were still walking around the busy area around the local Homeplus. It wasn’t as busy as a regular Sunday evening but it was busy enough, especially in the coffee shops. That being said, the streets have been very quiet all day.

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The streets in Yeongtong, Suwon around midday today.

Anyway, so far Chuseok has been proceeding in a very appropriate fashion. As I said we woke and had a breakfast that was large enough for about twelve people. Then we went to the cinema and watched some good-guys win kids movie in English that was about penguins living with Jim Carrey (yes, of course I know the name but using it makes me sound uncool and interested – P.S. Big fan of Jim Carrey when he’s being a clown. Me, Myself and Irene anybody?). Then we came back to the apartment, and everyone except me fell asleep for a couple of hours. Not because I didn’t want to, I just avoided it. Everyone woke up and a lunch the same size as breakfast was served. My father-in-law went back to sleep and everyone else is now sitting in front of the television watching variety shows and what have you. I’m sitting here watching them (and writing this post of course).

Everyone looks happy, relaxed, and is going nowhere in a hurry anytime soon. I imagine we’ll have another massive meal in about an hour or two. Not that I’m complaining.

8 thoughts on “Chuseok Diary

  1. Hey, Conor, thanks for the linklove, and glad you had a nice holiday, too. Omonni (the MIL) made her famous galbi jjim [happyface emoticon here] but it was so popular no leftovers were available to send back to Bobster’s House [sadface emoticon here]. This is usually one of the things that make the trip worthwhile, of course … heavy sigh.

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    • Galbijim enjoyed by all here too. I don’t think it’s fair to into a discussion as to whose tastes better! I read your description of chuseok and agreed about everything – especially the Christian ridicule of it! You saved me going into ling rant about that!

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  2. Pingback: Days of Chuseok | If I had a minute to spare...

  3. Pingback: Letter to a Friend, Harvest Festival Holiday | Bobster's House

  4. Great post. I had seen reference to this lately and wondered how it was celebrated. Nice.
    Our North American Thanksgiving is in November. The day is always the same but the date itself changes. It’s always the fourth Thursday of Nov. this year the 28th. It’s a holiday we look forward to at work, since it’s Thursday, we get Friday as a “floating” holiday so it’s always a nice long weekend. Last year my husband birthday was on thanksgiving, he told me growing up….his birthday was either combined with or was overshadowed by thanksgiving. As a good wife, I try and make it special. The Costco here….makes the biggest and yummiest death by chocolate cake. He loves it. But, I also made pumpkin pies (regular and low carb) I’m not kidding. Our usual meal is a carb restricted dieters nightmare. Hubby and I usually gather at my oldest sisters house (with dozens of kids, grandkids and now great grandkids….) hubby and I slip in unnoticed as we have zero kids. My sister cooks 2 gigantic turkeys. She takes one and picks the carcass clean and uses all that meat in a huge crock pot with amazing gravy she makes from the turkey drippings. The other turkey is carved in the usual manner. My nephews wife (a beautiful and sweet Cuban American) makes jalapeno mashed potatoes. She makes 10lbs of potatoes hot and another 10lbs labeled hotter. I stay way from the “hotter.” Add in the usual (for our family anyway) it means everyone has the one thing they make better than anyone else and they make it and bring it…”pot luck style”. Canndied yams, green bean casserole, Asian chicken salad, green salad, stuffing, deviled eggs, fruit salad (I will be honest, it’s not a real salad, it’s massive amounts of Cool Whip and you mix in canned and fresh fruit) and homemade dinner rolls. For dessert there’s apple pie, cheese cake (it’s made with instant pudding mix, I complain every year that it’s not REAL cheese cake) and my pumpkin pies. We all stand in a circle holding hands and taking time to be thankful for another year, for family who are not with us and for those we lost that year. It’s happy and sad but its tradition. The women in my family spend hours and hours cooking, it takes 20 or so minutes for everyone to go through the line, eat, possibly go back for seconds, Ana’s potatoes are the first to go, one or 2 kids always drop their plate on the floor, and we break into dessert way too early. That whole process takes about 20 minutes!!!!! I’m not kidding. The ladies almost immediately start cleaning and packing the food in little containers for people to take home. The men almost immediately retire to the den (TV room) to watch football. Western football, not your football. It’s college football extravaganza on thanksgiving. I look forward to all of it. Now….that being said, we trade off years sometimes my family and my husbands family. The difference…I make my pies, and I get a little drunk first. It…helps….I LOVE MY HUSBAND, but his family requires some alcohol on board. Happy Chuseok!!! Sorry, I have no editing system. My best to you and yours!!!!!!

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    • Thanks for making me really really hungry!

      As for my experience in this post, it’s a little unconventional. Most people married to Koreans I know usually travel to their wife’s family, which we did this year, many brave hours
      of gridlock (we planned well and avoided it – left a day early and then started out this morning at 5am).

      You should give my fellow Korea blogger The Bobster a read. He has a much more ‘traditional’ account of modern Chuseok and is less watery eyes about the whole occasion.

      Letter to a Friend, Harvest Festival Holiday | Bobster’s House

      http://bobstershouse.com/2013/09/21/letter-to-a-friend-harvest-festival-holiday/

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